Power Company Assassins Murder My Trees

September 22, 2013 | By | Comments (49)
Chainsaw massacre

Professional tree pruning services courtesy of the highly trained power company artisans. They used the utmost discretion and care.  Photo: Steve Bender

Call it “The Alabama Chainsaw Massacre.”

I was on my way home from a week’s vacation in Paris (yes, it was fantastic, merci!) when I received word that earlier that day, the power company had come through, marched into my yard, and cut my trees.

My heart sank. I had planted these trees 20 years ago — one, a sugar maple and the other, a ‘Miami’ crepe myrtle — carefully siting them so as to not interfere with power lines and also pruning every year to prevent any branches from threatening the lines. Those trees survived hurricanes, tornadoes, snowstorms, and ice storms without dropping a single branch. Yet, as our car turned the corner onto my street, I saw something I had never imagined or could explain.

My sugar maple in the middle of the yard was now a 30-foot beanpole. Every branch (see above) on the street side of the tree had been cut back to the trunk. I now own a shade tree shaped like a toothbrush.

Murder Victim #2
Remember this photo of me pruning my crepe myrtle? It was part of a story I did for “The Grumpy Gardener” called “Crepe Myrtle Pruning Step-By-Step” some years ago. That post about how to properly prune a crepe myrtle became so widely read that if you Google “crepe myrtle pruning,” it’s the first article cited.

Chainsaw massacre

Before: Annual pruning done to prevent problems while maintaining the natural form of the crepe myrtle. Photo: Judy Bender

Well, below is that same crepe myrtle as it appears today. A perfectly symmetrical tree that needed 5 minutes of pruning a year is symmetrical no longer. The power company chopped off branches nowhere near the lines and not even pointing towards the street. They had to have been standing in the middle of my yard when they did it.

Chainsaw massacre

After: See any power lines? They’re waaay up there. Photo: Steve Bender

First, Do No Harm
The irony of this situation is that in their ham-handed attempt to correct what they saw as a hazard, the tree butchers just made the problem worse. See, trees don’t naturally grow one-sided. When you cut off all the branches on one side or shorten big branches to thick, ugly stubs, the trees respond by quickly sprouting a thicket of branches on the badly pruned side, where there is now no competition for light. Thus, this “solution” is very short-term. Because replacement branches grow much faster than normal ones, they’re also weaker and more likely to break and fall on power lines. This, of course, ensures lots of future work for the tree cutters.

Coincidence? I think not.

The Power Company’s Side
Whenever people complain about indiscriminate and heavy-handed tree cutting, power companies invariably respond by pointing out that their primary responsibility is to ensure a reliable and uninterrupted supply of electricity to customers. Grumpy has no problem with that. Nobody wants to sit for days in the dark because a problem tree fell on the power lines.

(FYI, power company — you missed a huge, dead pine tree on the corner that’s sure to take out the lines when it falls. Guess you prefer live trees.)

The problem comes when power companies hire pruning contractors that show up unannounced, trespass on private property, lack proper training, and just buzz-saw through a neighborhood applying an arbitrary standard to each and every situation as if they were identical. Sure, your job takes a little longer when you bother to talk to the homeowner and come to an agreement that protects the lines without ruining the trees, but this can — AND SHOULD — be done.

Reliable power and beautiful trees ARE NOT mutually exclusive.

Grumpy’s Response
Shortly after I left a rather “unpleasant” message on the power company’s answering machine and published photos of the destruction on numerous gardening websites (eliciting hundreds of sympathetic responses and tales of power company atrocities from all over the country — merci beaucoup!), I received a phone call from the power company. We’ve scheduled a meeting at my house for this Tuesday morning to talk. I’ll let you know the results on Thursday’s “Grumpy Gardener.”

With proper care, my crepe myrtle should regain its beautiful form without endangering the lines. Sadly, though, my maple is beyond saving. So I’m going to ask the power company to take it down and replace it with a tree of my choosing.

Chainsaw massacre

‘Cherokee Brave’ flowering dogwood. Photo: Wayside Gardens

Right now, I’m leaning towards a ‘Cherokee Brave’ flowering dogwood. Wish me luck.


  1. Steve Bender

    Unless you’re there to watch them (which they try to avoid at all costs), this is what power companies do.

    January 5, 2017 at 10:01 am
  2. Susan Girton

    3 years ago Jay County REMC (Indiana) tree trimmers killed one of our 45 yr old spruce
    trees at the entrance to our drive way. I sent dead and living branches with pictures to Purdue University and their ruling was that the tree was so heavily pruned that it couldn’t have survived—3 years later – today as my husband was coming home, the tree guys were there again- they cut the whole top out of my young catalpa tree (left the up-growing branches) Tree probably should just be cut down, its ruined. The were just starting for
    my last (now 48 yr old spruce) and my husband stopped them–we have a meeting with the electric co. manger tomorrow noon–I have a lot of reading to do and have a call in to my
    attorney to see how far I can run them off my property. The tree they got today was
    23′ from their lines. It will take this spruce another 10 to 12 years to be a threat to their lines.

    December 28, 2016 at 4:45 pm
  3. Grumpy Gardener

    PAM & Other Victims,
    I feel your pain. Power companies act like thugs. They count on either you not being there when the crime is committed or doing nothing when you discover it. The best strategy is to shame them in the local media and forbid them to step foot onto your property. If they damage your property, sue. Be advised that power companies have the legal right to keep the lines clear on their easement. That doesn’t give them supreme authority to do anything they want.

    March 17, 2016 at 3:50 pm
  4. PAM

    Beautiful spring day. Took dogs for walk. The electric company tree assassins have been at work for past 10 years destroying a wonderful natural ecosystem on our farm. I am old and have MS making walking unsafe in this place so I had not looked at the details. It is in a deep ravine close to my gravel driveway. The lines span the gulley. In the winter the thicket was like an awning that let the light filter thru and it was about 40 ft below ground level. The temparture would be about 65 degrees in ths place when it was zero on the road above. I would go down to meditate and solve problems; I called it “Wonderland”. The deer and birds and all manner of wildlife lived here.
    The supporting trees have been cut to the ground. The vines and over hanging vegetation is destroyed. There is an enormous sinkhole. There are gullies (at least six) running from all direction. The land is a cesspool for mosquitos and a muddy quagmire. In time it will erode into our private driveway and we will have to pay to bridge it.
    I sat and trembled for about three hours last night and vowed to sue them. I am a placid , too accomadating person. This is the first time I have felt rage in 20 years. Violated doesn’t come close to what I feel. I feel for all the animals that have lost their home; it’s like the aftermath of war.

    March 17, 2016 at 10:17 am
  5. Barbara White

    Just spoke to Ft Myers, Fl power company about our main neighborhood entry road, I was told-so sorry, nothing you can do. Perhaps you can give some advice to people who are continuing to experience these kinds of problems but being brushed off like so much lint.

    October 27, 2015 at 1:33 pm
  6. C Wilhelm

    Looking for info on power company pruning, I came across your posting. The prune job done on your property is very like what happened on mine over a year ago. Now the 30+ year old ash that took the most damage is completely dead. It never recovered from the work done by their “licensed arborist.” The fun part is that now that this tree’s carcass is in danger of falling over in our next big wind and REALLY poses a danger to the power line, the company refuses to remove it because no remaining branches are within 10 feet. And, the arborist I had out refused to take it out because — get this — it’s too close to the damn power line! What’s a girl to do?

    October 19, 2015 at 8:43 pm
  7. leigh

    Our electric co sent contractors as well, to cut the trees in neighboring yards. Guess whose yard they either fell in or threw all the trees? Ours!! Trampling over our 2 Yr old landscaping, ripping half of just now mature variegated privet, ripping branches off a 2 yr old magnolia! They even damaged our $2000 safety fence around the pool. I’m disgusted.

    June 20, 2015 at 7:40 am
  8. Rebecca Dunlap

    Ironically my 2 trees in my front yard now look excatly like your pics! Apparently I am a very lucky woman to have been home at the time thatbthe tree service came to my home to dontheir butcher job for our dear Commonwealth Edison Power Co. My trees were scheduled to be cut down completely! Omg I was shocked and said nooooo. You may trim but in no way do my beautiful 30 year old silver maples need to be chopped down. The tree service proceeded to cut and cut and cut…I ran outside camera in hand and was shocked as to the “trim” job. Large thick branches on the ground some with new growth nowhere near those power lines. I obviously caused enough commotion for a rep to come out. His take? Oh we must act aggressively. The only aggressive action taken was by their hired tree service to pay not 2 not 4 but 6 employees to stand in my yard in my flower beds butchering my trees. Some of my plants I have are pricess. No regard for their customers. I am appauld and feel totally violated. My land? I think not. Too bad the power company doesnt pay my taxes on the land that they took rights to.

    May 15, 2015 at 8:43 am
  9. Steve Bender


    Good news. Your viburnums will grow back.

    April 13, 2015 at 8:37 am
  10. Linda

    I need help or advice please. My beautiful 10 foot Viburnum Odoratissium hedges were supposed to be trimmed 2 ft. They were hacked to 6 feet by my lawn man. The leaves are mostly gone and there are sharp hacked branches left. I live in Florida. It took me 10 years to cultivate theses bushes. Will they grow back?? Please let me know. Thank you.

    April 10, 2015 at 6:45 pm
  11. Steve Bender

    You’re so right! OK, everybody, let’s move! I’ll take that beach property over there….

    March 4, 2015 at 1:21 pm
  12. JoeM

    The problem with all this are the people. Not the power companies. Why? Because for thousands of years there was no electricity. People got along just fine. Humans are exactly the same species today. Yet, people have CHOSEN to utilize electric technology to live. Take it or leave it. I don’t like what the power companies do at all. And it is why I live OFF THE GRID. I don’t have to worry about them coming around and tampering with my trees. So the fault lies in the people who chose to support the power companies. If you don’t want lines over your yard, then fight to get them moved. But never expect your trees to stay put if you do nothing. Complaining is inaction.

    March 2, 2015 at 11:14 pm
  13. Steve Bender

    This is OUTRAGEOUS! There is absolutely no way blueberry bushes could EVER interfere with power lines! It’s apparent that the power company sent out uneducated good ol’ boys who don’t know their ash from a hole in the ground. I would photograph your poor plants and demand that they replace your plants if that’s what you wish. If you think it will help, email me some photos to grumpygardenersl@gmail.com together with the details and I will put them up on my blog and shame these idiots in front of the entire world!

    My replacement trees are growing just fine.

    January 13, 2015 at 11:00 am
  14. Cheri Brannen

    I came home to find they had cut down a whole line of 21 yr old blueberry bushes that we have harvested every year . My heart is broken . These are our food source not just a decoration. The name of my small farm is Bluberry Hill Herb Farm , they just cut the blueberry part down to the ground! I did call the power co. They will look into it they say. I’m very blue today myself . What should I do?

    January 10, 2015 at 12:51 pm
  15. Nate

    It’s been a year, any updates on this?

    January 7, 2015 at 7:35 am
  16. RC

    I came home last night to find my tree decimated. Not just one or two but the entire tree line in my back yard. I don’t disagree with right of management to trim trees. I don’t expect rounding to enhance the look. I am confused how a branch 3 feet off the ground was blocking a power line 25 feet up. All tree branches below the power lines were taken off and my one private backyard is now completely exposed. Does the Power Company have an obligation to replant? I want to speak to someone about this and have them review what was done. Who can I call?

    November 6, 2014 at 7:31 am
  17. Rrr

    I am absolutely devastated. Came home from work to find my hedge – the reason I fell in love with my home enough to buy it brutally hacked to pieces. My entire deck and living room now exposed to everyone entering the complex. My privacy has been robbed and I am devastated, Violated, confused and in a state of hysteria and shock. How could someone murder such a generous living being that gave so much for 30 years with its it’s 8ft height and glorious health. They left the stump like dead bodies surrounding my deck. I can’t stay there anymore. How can people be so cruel and selfish to this earth.

    October 12, 2014 at 7:35 am
  18. j.zangara

    I just went through this yesterday. ComEd also has tree butchers that took my beautiful weeping willow and sliced off the back half. A beautiful healthy tree whose branches were cut to the trunk so they don’t have to return to trim yearly. They were asked several times to stop while cutting and they told me that they have the right to do this. The power lines were 10 feet away. So now if a storm comes it seems the tree can be uprooted because of their butchering.

    October 8, 2014 at 7:23 am
  19. Steve Bender

    Good for all of you who stood up to the power company Gestapo.

    October 1, 2013 at 10:31 am
  20. Renee

    My husband bought 3 acres of pasture land when he was 18 years old with plans to build a home once he got his degree. He got trees from the forestry service in Kentucky and had tended them for 39 years. One day I saw a tree cutting service on our property. I ran out and refused to let them cut a tree in half like you have. I told them not to do a thing until my husband got home. They came back, and a suitable solution to trim for power lines was arrived upon. We would have had just what you have if I had not been home. I told them my husband had planted every tree on the pasture land as a teen and they had better not touch a branch. We sold that lovely property last year and have retired to Florida with underground utilities. Sorry for your loss. It is very sad, and in most cases, the trees will never be as beautiful again

    September 29, 2013 at 8:54 am
  21. Sami

    Heart breaking! I bought a lot with a majestic oak in the back yard to build a home on. I picked the lot because of that tree. Two weeks after we moved in to our new home we found out a gas line ran behind our lot. I came home from work and the gas co had hired a crew that hacked off the back half of that tree. It was never the same and made our place look terrible. I cried for days.

    September 28, 2013 at 11:50 am
  22. Edna Gaston

    I totally agree. The power company came inside our fenced in yard, cut dogwoods to the GROUND along with understory plants in my nicely mulched bed. Another dogwood was “trimmed” into a disaster. Another dogwood was beside a pole and it was so severely trimmed that it died. A pine tree limb growing over my driveway and well below the lines was pruned so now all I have is a blank stump. Disgracegul

    September 26, 2013 at 8:19 pm
  23. Linda Dattilo

    I had a problem with the power company wanting to move the telephone pole 3 feet from my porch!! Can you believe that?! I told them they would not move that pole into my yard..They said it had to be done because it was the best location. I told them if they put one piece of equipment on my property I would sue them and get the manager on the phone. They did and I told him the same.. So they put the ugly pole on the street next to my yard..I had to plant a tree to cover it up…They threated to cut the tree if I did. The tree is growing fine.
    It makes you wonder why they seem to take pleasure in their power…(no pun intended) !

    September 26, 2013 at 11:01 am
  24. sarah

    this happened to me here in panama city ,I came home one day and found my trees buchered not only that but they came while the ground was very wet and left big ruts that needed to be filled , still waiting for the ruts to be filled, my neighbor had the some problem.

    September 26, 2013 at 9:09 am
  25. Chris

    Its funny to me that you all think that the power companies trespass, they carry the right of way where their lines run, i have always had representatives come out to the house to inform us of the work that is taking place. In the end if you planted the tree after the lines were in place, you are at fault.

    September 24, 2013 at 9:04 pm
  26. Cyndia M

    This would have undone me completely. I have watched what the power company here has done in past years to the trees in my historic neighborhood. Many of those poorly pruned trees were destroyed in a tornado that swept through a few years ago. The healthier trees stayed put. Thankfully, our city has instituted better practices in recent years. That’s not to say some yahoo doesn’t muck it up from time to time.

    September 24, 2013 at 8:20 pm
  27. Jan Huston Doble

    That had to be maddening! I don’t think I could write such an even-tempered post…I’d be steaming! I’m sorry they were such idiots! I hope you pick out the largest tree you can have delivered and they have to pay big bucks for it 😉

    September 24, 2013 at 10:28 am
  28. Cathy

    Ah yes, been there, my sympathies. I once was left with a ‘stalk of celery’ effect. The issue with outside contractors has become so acute with indiscriminate trimming, Michigan has had court cases to stop them.

    September 24, 2013 at 8:53 am
  29. Steve Bender

    I surveyed my neighborhood this morning to see what had happened to other trees. Mine was the ONLY one reduced to a one-sided pole and it was NOT interfering with the power lines. Just down my street, one yard had an oak twice as big as my maple and closer to the lines. NO branches were removed. Some were shortened, but foliage and twigs were left on the ends. Same case with a Southern magnolia 10 feet closer to the lines than my maple. Same thing with a big Bradford pear — the tree most likely to break and fall in a storm than any other. It’s obvious that the people pruning had no idea what they were doing and pruned my tree in a way that no professional, certified arborist would. Period.

    September 23, 2013 at 10:56 am
  30. Kathie

    Several years ago this happened in our beautiful tree lined neighborhood. We asked to talk to the arborist and he agreed to top or V cut the beautiful Sugar maples, They will also cut the pine if you ask. They have kept their end of it for 7 years. Keep an eye out for different contractors. They change every few years. Good luck!

    September 23, 2013 at 9:56 am
  31. Peggy

    If only power companies would learn to chop their rates as brutally as they butchered that maple!

    September 23, 2013 at 2:27 am
  32. Pam/Digging

    I would have cried. Steve, that’s absolutely a crime. I can’t believe they cut your trees like that.

    September 22, 2013 at 9:14 pm
  33. Vicki Ross

    Our power company pruned one of our 60-year-old maples so badly that it finally had to be taken down by, guess who, the power company. Our area was tortured three years ago by a horrendous ice storm, and many trees here in western KY still have “hangers” on them, especially in their crowns. We received millions of dollars locally to replace power lines and have more tree trimming done by FEMA workers. But did the power company (West Kentucky Rural Electric Cooperative) even consider burying lines with the federal aid money? Of course not. If they did that, there’d be no more repair work left for their employees the next time we have a devastating storm. I’m all for saving jobs, but let’s get real about using tax dollars wisely. Maybe with a little input from someone who actually knows something about trees next time.

    September 22, 2013 at 5:39 pm
  34. Lydia Jones

    With you all the way and wish you success in resolving this very nasty situatiion. Their actions were certainly unreasonable to say the least. Makes one feel violated.

    September 22, 2013 at 5:25 pm
  35. Carolyn Choi

    Excuse me but what part of no don’t you understand, Alabama Power co. ? NO one sided trimming – how difficult would it be to round it out to below the power line if needed ? You need some instructions from Grumpy on how to trim a tree. This is pathetic. NO way to treat customers.

    September 22, 2013 at 5:12 pm
  36. Linda

    The power company here comes around every 2-4 years and trims a pecan tree at the road beneath the power lines. They trim all the branches off and leave the main trunk and several big limbs. Almost no leaves are left at all. Needless to say, the tree never has pecans on it.

    September 22, 2013 at 4:44 pm
  37. Steve Whitehead

    It’s really a shame to hear the your trees were cut down by the power company. Generally trees are trimmed for three purposes, and I would assume that they had to trim the trees because of the concern of safety. In some cases, dead or broken branches and limbs can fall off at any time, which can be a serious safety hazard. Also, if the branches obstruct the vision of drivers on the road, then they should be trimmed away.

    Here are some of the other reasons to trim a tree:

    Aesthetics: pruning a tree can effectively help to maintain its shape and appearance. However, you shouldn’t try to impose an unnatural shape or size on a tree. The power company definitely didn’t have aesthetics in mind when they trimmed your trees. Furthermore, the amount of trimming and pruning that could be needed can seriously damage it.

    Health: It’s sometimes possible to have an infected tree and save it. You can do this by strategically pruning away affected branches and limbs. Thinning the crown of a tree can improve airflow, which can be beneficial. If branches are crossing or rubbing together, they should be trimmed so that they don’t fall unexpectedly.

    September 22, 2013 at 4:42 pm
  38. Grace

    How dare they mess with a REAL tree expert!

    September 22, 2013 at 3:03 pm
  39. Sandra Robbins

    I have a Maple looks just like your photo, of course, “pruned” by power company contractors….tree experts. I also cried. My late husband planted it when it was about 2 ft. tall and babied it. Could easily have been properly pruned & not even been close to power lines. I posted a picture on my FB page.
    Sandra from NC

    September 22, 2013 at 2:51 pm
  40. Patty Draper

    Wishing you luck! The crew hired by 4-County in MS maimed my front ash trees and didn’t cut the damaged one that we asked to be cut because it WILL fall on lines when it blows or is cut!

    September 22, 2013 at 2:43 pm
  41. Chelle Ellis

    Heartbreaking! 😦 Tree Nazis!

    September 22, 2013 at 1:33 pm
  42. Suzie

    I hate to see the one-sided trees left by tree butchers. When I asked the power company to trim some crepe myrtles in my yard because they are growing around the power lines, someone came out, looked, and told me the trees were fine.

    September 22, 2013 at 1:00 pm
  43. Ann Chastain

    We have very old oak trees in our yard that were probably there before the power lines. The power company chose to put their lines there. Yet the tree “experts” the power contracts come through and cut the center out of these trees, where simply removing one or two strategic limbs would accomplish much better long range results. The indiscriminate removal encourages new bushy growth around the power lines that have greater tendency to grab the lines in high winds.

    September 22, 2013 at 11:33 am
  44. Dea

    You have to ask: Which came first, the wires or the tree? It’s pretty obvious that the tree was growing too close to the wires, but did they string the wires after the tree was planted?

    September 22, 2013 at 11:20 am
  45. Mary Slocum

    I wouldn’t accept any small dogwood either. They would need a tree spade to dig it and a flat bed 18 wheeler to deliver it!

    September 22, 2013 at 10:58 am
  46. Katy

    Will definitely be following how this turns out. I inherited a potted crepe myrtle when my dad passed away that I haven’t planted in our treeless front yard yet as I haven’t been able to decide where I want to place it for fear that if I choose the wrong location something similar could occur.

    September 22, 2013 at 10:47 am
  47. Brenda Thomas

    I worked for a power company for 34 years and we also used outside tree trimming contractors. First of all, with the economy the way it is, our company had to cut back from trimming trees about every other year to about every 3-4 years so when they ARE trimmed, they cut back more than normal due to length of time between. ANY customer can refuse to let us trim their trees but they also suffer the consequences with an ice storm, wind storm, etc. comes through. I believe if the company is getting lots of complaints then it is their job to go out the sites to see the job the tree trimmers are doing. I have seen them butcher trees also, but usually they were planted too close to the lines. So sorry you have had this problem.

    September 22, 2013 at 10:44 am
  48. TC Conner

    I understand Grumpy’s grumpiness. But looking at that first photo it does appear that the tree might have become a problem. Grumpy said “carefully siting them so as not to interfere with power lines.” Perhaps Grumpy’s definition of “carefully siting” needs a careful redefining.

    September 22, 2013 at 10:42 am
  49. Melissa Koller-Anakin

    Oh please give us full details of your meeting. I had the same thing happen. The power lines were on the opposite side of the street. I was so mad I cried.

    September 22, 2013 at 10:28 am

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